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HOW Operator Training: The Manufacturer Link

While houses of worship often have experienced staff overseeing the acquisition and implementation of A/V technology, the operators are typically lay volunteers.

Harman’s ‘Mixing with Professionals’ program always features a professional user who acts as an advocate who can offer personal opinions and give the audience context. While houses of worship often have experienced staff overseeing the acquisition and implementation of A/V technology, the operators are typically lay volunteers. Church leaders can provide some training, but frequently they turn to manufacturers for operational and educational resources.

According to Jacob Cody, house of worship manager, technical marketing, Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems, education has been a core philosophy at the company since before he was born, which was in the seventies. One of Yamaha’s educational initiatives for the market in general is YCATS (Yamaha Commercial Audio Training Seminars).

“Our training department will go around the country and bring 10 consoles to give you a day with hands-on experience. We also do console labs, where you get to sit down and practice mixing,” Cody says.

The company’s training options range well beyond consoles, however. “We’ve also got software training—we’ve got different design software for our loudspeaker products—so whether it’s Nexo or Yamaha, we’ll do training on that. Audio networking is becoming a big thing, too, with Dante, Ethersound and CobraNet, so we do networked audio design training as well.”

The main in-person training focus for Shure is the Worship Arts Technology Summit, or WATS, which the company cosponsors with Yamaha. “Yamaha is a great partner for us because they pretty much make everything BUT microphones in a sound system, so that’s a nice complement,” says Gino Sigismondi, manager, Shure Systems Support.

“They can teach you about loudspeaker selection and placement, and the basics of mixing, and then we can come in and teach you about microphone selection and microphone placement,” he says. The events feature a broad selection of equipment, including lighting, and feature band performances, providing real-world experience for attendees.

A lot of time is typically spent on wireless microphones, “Which of course is the big voodoo mystery to a lot of people— how to make wireless work. And there’s a section on in-ear monitor mixing. So you get to see how the whole package fits together,” says Sigismondi.

WATS is intended for novices, he says. “So many people get thrown into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim, so this is exactly aimed at that person.”

The two-, sometimes three-day WATS events are held two to four times a year at locations such as Biola University, he continues. “We tend to go to larger houses of worship that are more like a campus, because there are always several different tracks of classes going on at the same time.”

Shure also tours a day-long advanced wireless seminar six or seven times annually. Those are not just for HOW users, but are designed to “let people know the sky is not falling,” says Sigismondi. “Here’s how you can best choose and set up wireless mic systems that will be able to work into the future. We spend a much larger portion of our time doing seminars on wireless microphones than we do on wired mic techniques: I can say that with 100-percent certainty.”

Harman’s Soundcraft and Studer brands of mixing consoles both sell into the HOW market. On the Soundcraft side, says Katy Templeman-Holmes, U.S. marketing, Soundcraft Studer, “The ‘Mixing with Professionals’ program has really become a brand header for us.” The program, typically centered on a Soundcraft Si console, features a professional user who acts as an advocate for the company’s products but is free to talk about any brands.

“They can say anything, so long as they’re teaching people,” she says. “They give real comparisons and workarounds and that kind of stuff. People enjoy that training because it gives it such good context—and they don’t want a marketing spiel.”

Soundcraft has just launched a new version, ‘Mixing with Professionals Local.’ “We’ve got about 45 of those events happening nationwide over a 10-month period. They kicked off in September and will run through to June.”

As the name suggests, the sessions typically take place outside the major metropolitan areas. “We use a local guy from the church in that town who has purchased and uses one of the entry-level digital consoles, like an Expression or a Performer, and a local rep does the actual training, so it’s a bit more formal.”

But again, she says, it features an advocate who can offer personal opinions and give the audience context. “There’s one three-hour session in the morning and one in the afternoon. On average, there’s about 25 to 30 people in each class. Those have been tremendously successful. And it’s free; we’ve never, ever charged for training.”

On the Studer side, Templeman- Holmes continues, “We have a training initiative called the Studer Broadcast Academy [SBA]. Obviously broadcast is our core market, but it translates across all industries.” Plus, of course, at the high end of the HOW market, and especially among mega-churches, many facilities participate in television, radio and internet broadcasting.

The SBA was initially hosted out of the company’s custom 73-foot truck, which can be driven to a convenient location for hands-on workshops. Not everyone is able to take time off work for training, however, so Studer has now launched the program online, and has certified more than 400 people so far worldwide, she reports.

Harman also hosts training sessions led by staff members at the annual WFX expo. “We tend to keep them on a very basic level. One of the key things we recognize with this group of people, and also in the MI market, is that they don’t know what they don’t know,” says Templeman- Holmes.

“We find ourselves explaining basic audio principles. With the [Soundcraft] FX series specifically, it’s such an easy console to use that we find it very easy to concurrently teach them about signal flow and have them get training on our console.”

As Cody observes, “These guys might install mufflers during the week, or work at an office. They’re not professionals. Most of the time the big qualification for a church sound person is, ‘you live closest to Radio Shack, right?’”

Tyler Kaneshiro, technical director at Beachpoint Church in Southern California, is assisted by eight audio volunteers. He reports that, perhaps unusually for a church seating 800 people, the worship pastor has extensive experience as a professional in live entertainment production, and one of the lead audio engineers was hired by Yamaha after starting at the church. “Other than us three, I would say everybody else has little to zero experience. The majority of them are between the ages of 14 and 25.”

Yamaha offers a variety of training experiences, covering everything from its consoles, to loudspeakers, to networked audio design. Kaneshiro is very appreciative of WATS events. “I started going to them probably four or five years ago. It’s not one-on-one, but you’re getting some face time with some really experienced people who know what they’re talking about. And it’s so cheap!

“To be able to bring my 14-to-25-yearold volunteers who don’t have a whole lot of experience into that environment and put their hands on the gear is super helpful. To sit in a room and watch somebody move a microphone on a drum and hear how it changes the sound or the tone is super valuable. Not to mention the networking and the relationships that are built there.”

The internet is a convenient medium through which to make training resources available, such as downloadable manuals, quick-start and troubleshooting guides, white papers and other documentation. Shure, for example, makes “The Audio Systems Guide for Houses of Worship” by Tim Vear, a 60-page guide to audio systems for worship applications, available as a PDF.

The Shure Notes blog, published several times a month, is also aimed squarely at the HOW user. “Sometimes it’s on microphone basics,” says Sigismondi. “We also go out and interview worship leaders and worship trainers, and have them weigh in and give their two cents.”

In common with many manufacturers, Shure also produces a variety of video programming. “All of our webinars are archived on’s training page. We did do mic techniques for houses of worship, a very specific webinar, but we’ve also got webinars on our new products, and general wireless microphone topics that would be useful for anybody,” he adds.

“On our site, we have video resources on a lot of our consoles: PM5D, CL Series, 7CL, LS9,” says Cody. “They go over consoles and how to use them—not just that this knob does this function, but why you would want that, or why you need to have good gain structure.”

Yamaha also has a YouTube channel specifically for its house of worship customers. “Those are just short little tips and tricks, videos on quick get-arounds on the consoles, or ways to get to a feature really quickly,” he says.

Those guides can be a godsend: “The nice thing about Yamaha consoles is there are about 10 ways to do the same thing. But one of the worst things about Yamaha consoles is that there are about 10 ways to do the same thing!” he laughs.

“We try to produce a lot of hands-on videos; there are all sorts of different orientation and overview videos online,” says Templeman-Holmes. “We encourage business partners and dealers to produce them, and we’ll always support them.”

Harman also listens to feedback—its social media accounts and website are monitored virtually around the clock— and will produce videos based on requests, no matter how basic. “If that’s what they need to know, let’s respond, let’s take care of them,” she says. “We want people to be comfortable, and to be happy.”

Kaneshiro says he appreciates having online video available for his volunteers. “One of the things that’s becoming more required in the industry is the virtual soundcheck,” he says. Volunteers can come in between services and practice mixing using pre-recorded tracks. “That’s been a huge piece for us,” he says.